Tag Archives: editing

Published: Behind The Scenes (Feb 2017)

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Welcome to the February 2017 edition of Published: Behind the Scenes, where I talk about all the fun things that happen to get my book on the shelf.

If you missed the introduction post or the post from January, they can be found here and here.

Without further ado, see below!

February has been a rush (and I was all worried I’d have nothing much to share!). I got my first professional edit letter from my publisher. You know, ever. Which is a huge thing to begin with anyway, but then on top of that, it was developmental edits, which I have zilch experience with.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had developmental edits done with a professional editor, but I was surprised to realize that most of the work is done almost entirely from the outline. From the outline, the plot, stakes, and connections between scenes are all assessed to make sure that they all forwarded the plot and they’re not just a bunch of loosely connected points.

Which, in theory, seems straightforward.

(Why does it always so seem straightforward on paper or after the fact…)

The biggest complication to this whole process was that my outline was very unclear. Most of my themes and points were too vague or seemed unconnected, because I wasn’t writing out how they were connected or the details which made it relevant, which made it difficult to, you know, assess all of that. On top of that, since there’s a bit of a mystery element in the novel, I’d definitely not explained everything.

I know you’ve probably all heard this person, but seriously, don’t be mysterious when talking to your editor. Tell all the secrets. Get your point across. I didn’t even realize the things I hadn’t shared because I’m so used to them being secrets for books later on — but you need to tell your editor!

But overall, there was some definite face-palming on my end as I realized yet again… I hadn’t explained that… which was why everybody was so confused. I’ve always used outlines just as a general structure, and a way to jog my memory and keep me on path. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually written a detailed outline like what is actually called for in this situation.

But anyway.

The first run through of my outline mostly involved my editor and I getting on the same page of understanding. On top of everything else, I’ve been playing a little loose with the rules and structure of storytelling, so she gave me a crash course in understanding the basics.

To which I was like — but yeah I’m this AMAZING thing where I break the rules. Haaaa. Yeah right.

The biggest worry at the beginning is that there doesn’t seem to be enough at stake. I was relying on the intrigue of the world and all the questions I pose to drive the start… but that’s probably not going to be enough. There needs to be tension, a sort of deadline — not necessarily the world ending, you know, but something.

So, more stuff in the beginning, tension-related stuff. Which seems so simple and straightforward and I don’t know why I didn’t get that before. Probably because I was so focused on how cool I was using mystery and questions to drive parts of the plot.

So, the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that came out of this: I need to write more. My 109k word novel needs more words.

To continue with the theme of my not explaining enough, my editor also thinks I started the book too far into my main character’s arc. The initial trigger, or catalyst, to make her this answers-driven rebellious intelligent fiend, is something that’s learned as the book progresses, but isn’t known from the beginning. My editor is concerned there’s too much explanation that needs to be written in the first chapter because of this. Mostly because I created a really complex world.

To which I’m like: but… but… I like my subtle hinting and clues for all the answers! (which isn’t a good enought answer, in case you were wondering)

But anyway. The result of all of this, is that I’m writing a prequel novella.

This prequel will show how my protagonist got to where she is in my first book: all the themes and important points that had to come together to form her after the catalyst of her sister’s death. It’s also going to introduce the world, taking the pressure off the first book to get everyone on the same page within the first chapter. We’re working through the outline of that as well (hey, I’m learning how to be a plotter and write from an outline!), and I should be starting actual writing on it in the next few weeks.

Some part of me feels the prequel is redundant, that everything is already said in the first book, at least mentioned if not explained. But I’m also discovering (well, building) a story that’s a lot bigger than what I’d initially had in my head, and it’s giving me time to build the world out with more clarity.

If this prequel definitely happens, it’s going to be weird releasing it first versus the actual book. I’m definitely having anxiety it won’t be interesting enough, that releasing a novella first instead of a full length novel as my first book ever is bizarre. But that’s probably just anxiety about releasing anything anyway.

For fun, I’d like to share the progress that my outline has gone through so far. Just to provide a little context to what I’m talking about.

This is the first chapter in the outline originally:

Chapter One:

The book begins with Fairian sneaking out of the house. It’s obvious she’s waiting for something, and she gets attacked, and then saved by Daimyn. Excited by the new lead, Fairian asks questions. He warily answers before warning her off coming out at night, and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

As you can tell, there’s not much there. It made perfect sense to me, because I have all the themes and connections in my head. And here’s what it is now:

Chapter One

Fairian sneaks out of the house to find a creature – now that she’s in the new city of Farfalla, which is swamped in intrigue and mystery, she thinks she may have luck getting answers about her sister’s death. Mixed with descriptions of the city, there are brief mentions of backstory that give a glimpse into world structure, family life, and how long she’s been on this quest.

She gets attacked by a strigoi, and ‘saved’ by a mysterious man. While she’s peeved about the loss of the strigoi, she realizes that this man knows something, and asks questions. He warily answers a few questions before warning her off her search and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

I imagine the first chapter will go through further edits, but for now, it’s clearer. I’m itching to get into the actual content of the first chapter instead of just talking about the content… but clarifying on what the chapter needs to be is helpful, I will admit.

After the first chapter, there’s some change to the plot itself. Because the second chapter needs to further tension and get the plot going with a goal (my original goal not quite ‘big’ enough), the original chapter two was too slow. This is besides the fact that the outline was, again, not nearly clear enough in what aspects, tensions, and themes are being developed out at that point.

So here’s the second chapter initially:

Chapter Two:

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, her maid announcing her new martial arts teacher was arriving. She meets Mr. Kearney and he agrees to teach her. Afterwards, her best friend Tiffany and her decide to go shopping: this reveals more about Farfallan history and make-up, and Fairian mentions more on the Environmental crisis.

How does that even explain anything? Seriously, it seems so obvious now that this outline is NOT clear enough.

Now, alongside clarification, there’s a new aspect to drive the plot forward:

Chapter Two

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, and decides the Mr. Mysterious from last night must know things, and she’s going to track him down and beat the answers out of him if she has to. She interviews with Mr. Kearney, a local martial artist, who agrees with teach her. It becomes obvious she’s been taking defense lessons for a while, in response to wanting to be able to protect herself. While it seems her father is reluctantly supportive of this, her mother makes it obvious that it was a BIG battle to even have an interview – and she’s upset about Fairian’s new instructor, thinking the move to Farfalla would end that ‘unladylike hobby.’

At lunch Fairian sees an article in the newspaper that reminds her of what happened when Fairian and her sister were taken. Her mother nitpicks at Fairian’s clothes, posture, attitude, etc (probably exacerbated because of losing the battle about the martial arts instructor) until in frustration Fairian agrees to go shopping for clothes appropriate to this part of the world — privately thinking she can sneak away and track down more information about the news article she saw. Their family ward and her best friend, Tiffany, comes along with. The drive to the market gives a glimpse into some environmental history and Farfallan culture.

Putting up with her mother’s ministrations for only a while, Tiff and Fairian manage to sneak away and head to the Central Library to search the news of the past few years. She finds out that many people have had strange psychological breaks where they supposedly saw their nightmares come to life, and they’re all sent to the same mental hospital. Starkly reminded of her past, Fairian sets getting into the hospital as her next objective.

As you can see, that was a heck of a lot clearer. Also, the issue with the people stalked by their nightmares and the mental hospital was originally a plot point much further in the book. Since a more pressing goal was needed to get the plot moving more quickly (beyond finding out who the mysterious character is in the first chapter), I moved it up and changed it around a bit. So far I feel pretty happy with it.

I’m having brief struggles with feeling possessive over my story and like it might be being changed too much. But, I will admit, finding my own ways to fix whatever problem is there has been a tad fun. And seeing improvements in my manuscript has been neat.

It’s a balance, between sticking true to the story you want to tell and letting more knowledgable people guide you on what needs to be changed. It’s definitely been tense and a little nerve-wracking as my baby is being pulled apart and put back together, but good overall.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Have any of you gone through developmental edits like this? What was your experience?


Drive and Depth: Debating My Least Favorite Writing Rule

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I’m coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that I need to cut a lot from the second in the series I’m writing. I continually waffle back and forth depending on the day, of course. But there is a thread of truth in the idea that I’ve written content in this book that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

Does is portray intriguing characterization? Definitely. Rich emotion and relationships? Oh, yes. Interesting dynamics and world building? You betcha. Forwarding the particular thread of plot for this novel? Well…

It is the second in the series. So some parts of me say, there’s leeway! People will care about these characters now (as it is the second book), so they’ll want to read about these fun interplays that delve deeper into the dynamics of the world and how the characters fit into it (and each other)! Then I’ll bring in the real clincher for this novel, and off we go.

But the more I read, the more I get the feeling I really need to start cutting. Or, somehow, shorten the scenes I’ve written. There seems to be a lot of advice being churned out — or maybe I’m just now paying attention to it — about how every scene needs to drive the plot forward, to build on the scene before it.

I think I’m pretty good on the building from previous scenes. If the difficult of extracting one of my scenes without collapsing part of the story is anything to go on, I’m good at that part. But not all the my scenes necessarily drive the plot forward.

But then part of me wonders — what does that really mean, drive the plot forward? Sure, you’ve got the main storyline of what occurs that hopefully follows a theme, maybe teaches a lesson, hitting upon human moments and concerns. But then there’s this whole nebulous character part of it.

Characters are what drive the story. Characters are what make readers actually care about the story. But to have characters, you have to have characterization, growth, interplays and dynamics. Which I absolutely adore, both as a reader and a writer.

So how much characterization is too much? How much of the book can be character focused, and how much solely plot?

I know the aim is to weave both of these together, so they seamlessly slide into each other and catapult the whole story forward. So maybe my real problem is learning how to do that more effectively.

But that can’t be quite right, because I still have 148k words on this mammoth of a book, and even if I did still start the ‘action’ earlier and weaved everything else in later, that’d still be the word count. So I’m back to — too many scenes that involve just characterization.

Which brings me to my second complaint of the rule that all scenes must move the plot forward.

When I started writing, I was fascinated by making everything real. Real emotions, real interactions, real situations (well, as real as you can get with dragons flying around). While I’m not as obsessed with it now as I was then, there’s still a part of me that yearns for a plot to not be so straightforward.

Real life has dead ends. Clues that aren’t clues. Unfortunate bunny trails. Long walks that turn into long conversations that no one quite remembers fully, but they know what it felt like. Boredom. Confusion. Unclear motives. Self-loss.

I’m not advocating long drawn out scenes about doing dishes or being stuck in traffic for an hour. That’s boring. There’s a difference between relaying boredom and being boring. But at some point, I get bored with scenes that do nothing but drive forward. Life is fuller than that. Life has more mystery and more depth.

I want to stop and savor. Enjoy the world I’m immersed in. Really get to know the characters, and feel what they feel. Pick apart their minds and their motivations, and curl up inside their heads.

But. Too much can mean a story that drags.

So. Where is the line, do you think? Between plot and character; between drive and depth? Where do you draw your line in this tug of war?


Oh Canada, Oh Canada…

So I’ll be gone for two weeks! My parents are taking my sister, my partner, and I up to Canada, to some city I can’t spell to save my life (the French, man), but it’s 2 hours North of Montreal. I’m pretty excited about that. Then we’re heading to a cute town called Poughkeepsie, and then we’ll be finishing our train ride to New York!

It’s going to be great. I turned in my FicFest revisions a week or two ago, and my mentor just gave back my first chapter and synopsis — and I’ll be getting the whole manuscript here in a few days. The deadline to get everything in is the 30th of June, so I’ll be finishing up all those revisions on vacation!

I’m kinda excited for that. I’m hoping that the first week of vacation will be relaxing (and adventurous, but relaxing). As much as I love my goats, I’m looking forward to not having to worry about waking up early for chores. I can sleep in, and mentally be a spaz, go exploring, and revise to my heart’s content!

I probably won’t be posting here for the next two weeks. Unless I feel the need to share the wonderful things I’ll be experiencing. But you should probably follow me on Twitter for that.

Getting on a plane at midnight! Now to get all my chores and packing done in time…


Staying True To Your Story: A #FicFest Update

When revising your manuscript with an editor, how do you handle all of the changes when it can feel like the story isn’t yours anymore?

Well, first you have to look at that sentence and realize it’s misleading. If you’re making a change (based on advice, your own realizations, or aliens controlling your brain), it’s still YOU making the change. It’ll be your words, your expression, your ideas on how to implement it.

A while ago I read that you can’t copyright ideas in fiction. The only thing that is truly ‘yours’ is how you use your words. Which, if you think about it, really makes sense. Because if only one person had the copyright on dark mysterious vampires I’m pretty sure the paranormal romance market wouldn’t exist.

Kidding! Kidding. Seriously, there’s a lot of other neat stuff in the genre, but you see what I mean.

But I’ve found myself thinking about how ideas are formed and implemented during this wonderful/stressful/crazy revision part of FicFest. Ideas are just a mixture of the things I’m working out in my own life and what I ‘feed’ myself based on what I’ve read, but they become so close to our hearts. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to ‘own’ that part — not to mention the fact that the publishing process is going to rip my manuscript apart, anyway.

It’s easy to become enthralled and hyper-focused on your manuscript. And when you have an idea of what revising is going to look like in your head, and then it’s totally different, it can really put you off balance. Especially when you look at it all at once, like I said in my previous post.

However, the past few weeks I’ve taken my own advice, and carefully looked at each suggestion individually, and only one at a time, and made changes as I saw fit.

Honestly, I ended up implementing almost all of her suggestions. Because when looking at them individually and not letting my ego interfere, they made sense. And oftentimes I found that, bizarrely, when I made one change, it made her next suggestion divinely ‘fit.’

For example: It was suggested that I move a scene to earlier in the story. It was a simple move, not one that sent me down ‘ohmygodifImovethiswhatwillhappen’ street. In the scene, the magical version of the CIA approaches my MC with a job offer. Originally, I had it later in the story, alongside a bunch of other scenes to create a sense of ‘oh crap all these people know about the connection to xyz event she’s stuck now.’ Moving that scene made sense, not only because it made more sense for the CIA-like character (they approach her more covertly), but because it spiced up another section.

But because of it’s new placement, a new theme just magically fell into place: Blackmail.

All of sudden, from neither my mentor’s suggestion nor my own pre-planning, there was this new tension. The ‘job offer’ took on a life of it’s own and started changing the rest of my story, shifting character motivations, creating issues that were both good and bad. It changed a trust dynamic with two individuals completely.

At first I kinda freaked. ‘What? No! That’s not how I want my story to go! Crap! I’m going to have to take out the blackmail part and –‘ and, and, and.

Incidentally, as I was talking about above, this change magically fit into another suggestion by my mentor: I needed more tension in the second half. There wasn’t a direct obstacle to my character’s goals.

Originally, that’s kind of what I wanted. Look my character is finally succeeding with this thing she’s been obstinately fighting for for half the book — WHAM, climax, look at this creepy bad guy you knew was coming but hoped wouldn’t, MWAHAHAHAH!

Weeeeell. Yes. But.

I stuck to my plan at the beginning of this thing, that I was going to try on everything my mentor said, and I could always change it back if it really wasn’t right. I continued on with this new ‘blackmail’ element and wrote it out for the rest of the book.

Oh look at all the new delicious tension that my MC has to deal with!

Probably manifesting my own opinion on the matter, my MC frantically ignores the whole thing. LALALLALA it doesn’t exist hahaha I’m so kidding myself. Then, in a moment of vulnerability, she screws up.

Cue ‘all is lost moment’ — (which my mentor also said needed to be a bit more punchy, so, HELLO, two things fixed with just one scene change, wtf?). MC thinks she’s lost what she’s been fighting for this whole thing. Evil bad dude comes out of nowhere to ruin the day (okay, week). I added in a bit threatening what she values most in the world — independence — and voila!

Much heavier all is lost moment.

Am I freaking out that my story has changed A LOT and is this still my story oh my god I had to change so much around I suck as a writer?

Abso-freaking-lutely!

I found myself struggling with my writing identity: I must suck at this, to have so much change.

Now reread what I just wrote up above with the scene change. What did I say? Oh yeah, the whole thing that followed was all my work. My mentor didn’t specifically suggest blackmailing my MC. She gave suggestions that, considering marketability and the structure that keeps readers interested, could improve my manuscript.

My original scene move (which I completely agreed needed to happen and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself) didn’t leave me nervously not knowing the balance between keeping true to oneself and taking good advice.

Everything that followed, followed naturally. I wrote it. Did it fit into a whole bunch of her other suggestions that I felt nervous about implementing? Magically, yes.

Was it because my mentor said so, or because it just ‘fit’? Does this mean that there’s just a divine formula for book structure that happens naturally? Was I influenced by my mentors suggestions when I was rewriting?

Does it matter? The real question is: Is this still my story?

You bet your cute butt!

So my advice to you is this: Own those revisions! No matter the source. They are yours. And if they don’t feel like it, make them your own.

Do you have any crazy revising stories to share? What writer-y lesson have you stumbled across lately? 


Rambling Advice on Editing: #FicFest Update

I have zero desire to write this blog post, but I’m doing it anyway. I skipped/missed last week’s post, somewhere between laziness, picking up my (almost) mother-in-law for her month long stay, and furiously editing my manuscript for FicFest. So as I write this week’s, and I figure as long as I keep rambling, something will come out.

That’s what they say about writing habits every day, right? Just start writing anything, and the flow will come.

But anyway. Let’s talk about FicFest updates.

I received my edit letter almost a week ago… wow, has it been only a week? Yikes. It feels like it’s been longer. Anyway, I got the edit letter, and it’s been a little bit like having free access to crack ever since. It’s impossible to pull away. I’m definitely editing on the sly at work. I’ll find myself reading over her edits and making changes for hours and don’t even remember how I got there. It helps that she’s so freaking smart and spot on about everything.

I’ve run into my first problem, however: knowing the difference between a good change that improves my craft and story, and knowing when a change will alter the ‘heart’ of my story too much. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of comments by a mentor, an editor, a beta reader — whatever you’re happening to read over in that moment.

I don’t really know the answer to this yet, but I have gotten some great tips from writer friends and family.

My first piece of advice, coming directly from me, is this:

Read through all the advice and suggestions. Then, take a step back. Take each edit one at a time, and only that one at a time. Take the one suggestion and work only on that until it’s done (and maybe give yourself a time limit if you’re a super-perfectionist). Don’t try to do everything at once as you’re moving through your manuscript.

 

I started with finishing the line edits, and have just moved onto the overall suggestions; right now I’m working on making my setting more vivid (and ONLY on the setting). Once that’s done, I’m moving onto making a particular character from the past have a little more influence on the future, to not be quite so shrouded. Then I’ll be working on this one character quirk that needs to be further explained.

Do you see what I mean? Focusing on one aspect makes it a lot easier to digest and implement. I’m finding I’m not nearly so overwhelmed, and I can see each comment more clearly as what it is: advice, and intelligent suggestion.

Another piece of advice that really rung true for me was this:

Take each suggestion at face value (again: only one at a time) and look at it through the lens of what story YOU are trying to tell (you’ve probably heard this advice a hundred times, but for some reason this really hit me as helpful).

Be open to all suggestions and improvements. Consider everything carefully, after a few days to digest the comments you’ve received. Come at your story after a deep breath and a step back. Determine what kind of story comes across to the reader, and if it’s the story YOU want to tell. Some suggestions may change the story to feel like something else, or the characters to be like other people. It could be good. It could be great. Or it may change something too much.

Don’t cut off your nose in spite of your face, but keep true to the story you are trying to tell.

 

Does anyone else struggle with finding this balance? What’s your method to work it out? How about my FicFest friends, how are you all doing?


Results of the “Trope Outline”

If you read my Tropes Outline post, you know that I’ve been working on an outline that follows the main tropes of my story. There was a bit of delay in my posting about the results of it, mostly because Camp NaNoWriMo hit and now I’m focused on writing the thing the outline is for vs. the outline itself.

And now I’ve finished writing the thing I wrote the outline for. I don’t really think I got the lesson that was supposed to come out of writing the outline… because I’m looking at the tropes I put to the outline and they don’t seem to be showing up overwhelmingly in the story.

Okay, let me back up.

Writing this thing, I basically did this:

Here’s a scene. What trope best fits it? * research research TV tropes research* Ah, that seems best. Plunk, there it is, right in there. I did it for every major scene, for each character, and occasionally two character’s interactions if they were important to the story.

It’s all very nifty looking and cool at the end. But I didn’t necessarily use it while writing it.

And, as my partner pointed out when he asked some questions, I also didn’t do a before and after trope: or where I started and where I want it to end.

Would that have helped? I don’t know. I also don’t have much practice following an outline (versus having the story flow out in my head and then I write it down just for reference if I can’t remember what happens next), so I probably didn’t utilize the thing as much as I should have.

Writing the outline did help me focus, but I did my usual stunt of getting really excited about writing and mostly forgetting I had an outline and just going with it.

On the other hand, this is just a first draft. And I deliberately let myself go and pushed away my inner editor in an attempt to get it all out. I’m wondering if the trope outline may be more helpful in the editing phase, when I really start honing down what this thing I’ve created is actually doing.

Also, on a different subject, the novella is 2k more than the word count limit for the contest I’d like to enter. So I need to be cuttin’ some words… or enter it in an alternate magazine I’ve found. Or do both. (Which I actually think isn’t nice so I probably won’t do that).

If nothing else, this experiment is making me think about things in different ways. My brain is already trying to apply this exercise to my 117k manuscript. Even though it’s technically completed, I think it would be really good for me to delve into the core themes from this perspective. If nothing else, for another hone down session.

Editing is a never-ending process anyway, and who knows — maybe I’ll see an element I didn’t even realize, that I can use in my query. Highlighting common tropes can point out similar books (or movies) that you can use for queries (to do the X meets Y kind of query). Or, it can at least show another way to quickly sum up your manuscript, highlighting the common thread and the twist you’ve added that makes it new and refreshing (and thus efficiently and elegantly showing why it is desirable).

So what do you think? Have you had any adventures with tropes recently? Or a writing experiment in general?


Revisions and Chapter Breaks

I’m finding myself revising the beginning of the MS I have been pitching. And not just a little edit, but a major revision.

Maybe I’ve been turning a blind eye… or simply not being as critical as I should be.

But a recent rejection made me take a second look at the beginning of my book. In their comments (I actually received comments!), they said some [hurtful] things that didn’t make sense. But instead of crying profusely or raging out at the world, I tried to take the middle ground: do a harsh edit using their actually helpful comments, and see what that gets me.

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When I do a major revision, I made a whole new duplicate document, saving the original, and made the changes in the new one. That way if I realize this was a terrible idea and only a self-loathing-induced fit, I could turn back to the original and forget the duplicate ever existed. Or, learn from the fit and keep some of the changes, but not have an irreversibly changed MS.

I realized as I tore apart my first few chapters… that I haven’t really looked at them in… apparently a long while. And I’ve grown as a writer in that while.

For example, there was a lot of unnecessary italicized inner-dialogue that could be turned into normal “showing,” making scenes much smoother without the sometimes jarring, emphasized italicized version of my MC’s thoughts.

Interestingly enough, one scene I wrote a long time ago, and distinctly remember being proud of, was actually superfluous and awkward. It was much too information-dumpy, and was something I could spread out and drop more casually in the story.

Also, my chapter endings were boring. I’m not sure how it escaped my attention that they were, probably focusing on the content of the chapters without thinking of the further-draw aspect. But with some scene rearranging, the chapters end with a little more enticement to read the next chapter. The new scene set up actually makes more sense and is smoother, too, which is interesting.

I came across an article recently (I think I pinned it to one of my Pinterest boards) about chapter endings. We’ve all seen the cliff-hanger chapters, which is the #1 way of enticing readers to continue on. But this article cautioned that it was possible to go overboard and make a book choppy; another way of ending chapters was to always end with a question, or the next piece of the mystery.

You’re probably saying, “yeah I knew this already,” but for some reason I hadn’t taken that tidbit to heart when I wrote the beginning of this manuscript. The chapters just ended where it seemed like a good place, without really thinking about drawing people further. The later chapters, for sure… but those aren’t the chapters that publishers or agents will see first anyway!

So I feel a little silly. I’d been so focused on the ending, the plot, and the next book in the series that I hadn’t given sufficient time to the aspect that will actually make or break the whole dang thing.

Though it’s heartening to see my craft improving.

What is your favorite chapter ending/method? Have you realized something silly you were missing because you were so focused elsewhere? What is your latest ‘ah-ha!’ rejection story?